It wasn’t long ago that many HDTV manufacturers ditched plasma in favor of LCD technology, but Panasonic wasn’t one of them. It continued to turn out reasonably priced plasma sets that deliver solid image quality with good black levels. Now, Panasonic has decided to shutter its remaining plasma panel manufacturing facilities and bow out of the plasma HDTV market altogether by year’s end, which is ironic considering the company’s latest plasma offerings, the VT60 and ZT60 series, are quite possibly the best performing plasma sets Panasonic has ever produced.
In this review we take a look at the TC-P60VT60 ($2,999.99 list), a 60-inch model that delivers a stunning high-definition (1920-by-1080) picture with colors that pop and some of the darkest blacks we’ve ever seen. Moreover, it’s aesthetically appealing and loaded with features. The rub? It’ll cost you around three grand to partake in all this big screen plasma goodness.
Design and Features
Edge-to-edge glass and a thin band of silver trim give the TC-P60VT60 a sleek, elegant look. The 80-pound cabinet can be attached to the brushed silver metal stand with a v-shaped mounting bracket, or mounted on a wall with an optional mounting kit. The stand does not swivel, but considering the panel’s excellent viewing angles, that’s not a big deal. At the top of the cabinet is a 720p camera that automatically pops up when you launch a camera app like Panasonic’s Video Memo.
Six buttons that control power, channel, volume, and the input source sit on the rear of the cabinet, on the right side, and pressing and holding the Input button launches the menu system. An SD card slot, a digital audio output, three USB ports, and three HDMI ports sit opposite the buttons, on the left side. As is usually the case with Panasonic HDTVs, you don’t get a fourth HDMI input. A set of down-facing component/composite (shared) A/V jacks, an Ethernet port, and a cable/antenna connection are on the back.
The VT60 comes with two remotes. One is a traditional 9-inch wand with 43 buttons and a four way arrow wheel and enter button. It has a glossy black finish, red backlighting, and dedicated Netflix, Web Apps, 3D, and eHelp (online manual) buttons.
The other is a touchpad-based controller that measures 4.5 inches long, tapered to fit comfortably in your hand. The top of the remote holds a spacious round touchpad framed by Microphone, Tools, Return, and Option buttons. A power switch and built-in microphone sit above the pad, and Volume, Channel, Home, and Web Apps buttons sit below it. The microphone lets you use voice commands to search for content and perform basic commands, but like every HDTV voice command system we’ve tested you’ll have to speak slowly and clearly for it to be effective. There’s an indented finger grip on the bottom of the remote with a trigger-style OK button, which makes it easy to select menu options without having to change your grip. My only gripe with this controller is that the touchpad is a bit too sensitive and takes some getting used to.
If you don’t have access to a wired Ethernet connection you can use the VT60′s 802.11n Wi-Fi to access its extensive catalog of online services and apps. Streaming video services include Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and YouTube, and there are scores of paid and free education, lifestyle, and entertainment apps available through Panasonic’s Viera Marketplace. These can all be arranged on the My Home screen, which can be customized with various layouts to suit your needs.
Video Memo is a particularly cool little app that uses the built-in camera. It lets you record a video clip and place it on the My Home toolbar. It comes in handy if you want to leave a message for the kids when they come home from school, for example. You can also use the camera for the face recognition feature to automatically log in family members to their own custom My Home screen.
The VT60 is a stellar performer. Using a Klein K10-A colorimeter, DisplayMate diagnostic patterns, and SpectraCal’s CalMan5 software, we measured an exceptional black level of 0.0051 cd/m2. Its peak brightness of 158.42 cd/m2 can’t match the Samsung PN60F8500 (301.21 cd/m2), but its high measured contrast ratio (31,062:1) allows the panel to deliver exquisite highlight and shadow detail without blown-out whites or muddy blacks.
The VT60′s superb contrast ratio was apparent while watching scenes from Planet Earth on Blu-ray. Highlight detail in the snow-capped mountain scenes from the Polar chapter was sharp, as were dark underwater shots from the Oceans chapter. Shadow detail from The Matrix, a notoriously dark movie, was outstanding thanks to the panel’s ultra-dark blacks. As mentioned earlier, viewing angles were typical of a plasma screen; the picture remained intact with no apparent color shifts from any angle.
Out-of-the-box color accuracy is also impressive. The boxes on the chromaticity chart above represent the ideal CIE (International Commission on Illumination) coordinates for each color, and the dots represent our measured coordinates. Reds and blues were close to their ideal zones, and greens were only slightly skewed and still within an acceptable range where they looked natural and evenly saturated.
In a side-by-side comparison of the VT60 and the more expensive ZT60, my colleagues and I were unable to discern any difference between the two panels in terms of shadow detail, color saturation, and overall picture clarity. In other words, the pictures looked identical. Granted, we were unable to replicate sunlight conditions to see how the ZT60′s Studio Master Panel technology performed, but in our darkroom and typical office lighting environments, the VT60 looked every bit as good as the ZT60. In fact, their peak brightness, black level, and color accuracy measurements were nearly identical as well.
The VT60 uses active 3D technology and comes with two pairs of lightweight glasses. Image depth was excellent while watching Sharks 3D, and crosstalk was minimal. The picture looks a little darker with the glasses, but that’s not uncommon with active 3D technology.
As with most plasma HDTVs the VT60 uses lots of power. It averaged 355 watts during testing while set to Home Theater mode and 328 watts in Vivid mode. This is pretty much in line with the 55-inch Panasonic TC-P55ST50, which used 305 watts, and a bit more efficient than the 60-inch Samsung PN60F8500, which used 392 watts.
Dark blacks and vibrant colors are the hallmark of any great plasma HDTV, and the pricey Panasonic TC-P60VT60 delivers on both counts. It doesn’t get as bright as our current Editors’ Choice for high-end plasma sets, the Samsung PN60F8500, but its sharp, detailed picture quality and robust feature set certainly gives the PN60F8500 a run for its money. If the VT60′s price is a budget breaker, our midrange Editors’ Choice, the LED backlit Vizio M551D-A2R, will save you a bundle without skimping on features. It can’t match the VT60′s picture quality, though. As plasma swan songs go, Panasonic could do worse than the VT60.
|Video Inputs||Component, Composite, HDMI, USB|
|Diagonal Screen Size||60 inches|
|Pixel Refresh Rate Speed||600Hz|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc